After close to five years of uncertainty, companies are returning to business school for corporate training, according to the latest research from Unicon, the consortium of university-based executive education providers.

A survey of Unicon’s 100 members showed that 82 per cent experienced growth in 2011-12, with nearly half (49 per cent) reporting revenue growth of more than 10 per cent. Nearly all respondents - 94 per cent - expect to improve revenues in the coming year.

The biggest driver of the increase is demand for customised programmes, which are designed specifically for one company. Melanie Weaver, chair of Unicon and executive education boss at Michigan Ross, says that companies “are beginning to invest in their people again, and our survey suggests that this investment might accelerate in the year ahead.”

It is not good news for all providers, though, says Michigan Ross dean Alison Davis-Blake. “It’s harder than ever to be profitable in executive education,” she says. “There are a lot of sub-scale operations.”

And while the demand for customised programmes is growing, that growth is not in the US but in India and China, with all the implications that has for business school infrastructure. “We’ve got to do custom work at the client site, which is probably in India. And India and Ann Arbor are not that close.”

The survey also revealed that an increasing number of schools are stepping beyond traditional teaching, and offering business simulations, coaching, and on-line learning as part of the curriculum. They are also adopting the latest technology, such as tablet devices.

The survey was conducted in October 2012 and had a response rate of 75 per cent.

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